Here's a guestpost from a longtime sponsor, Angie from Milestone Images. It's a look into what (awesome!) photographers do when they're not shooting weddings. Plus there's a few wedding photography discounts in there, too.
When I made the switch from newspaper staff photojournalist to full-time autonomous photographer, I knew weddings would be one of my primary sources of income. I also knew one of my biggest challenges would be battling burnout and finding new ways to document the same things (brides! grooms! bouquets! rings!) over and over again. Working with offbeat couples absolutely helps me stay out of a creative rut, but I also challenged myself to book at least one inspiring, humanitarian trip around the world every year.
Which is how I found myself in Rwanda last month.
I spent the first two weeks of October shooting for Indego Africa, an NGO (non-governmental organization) based in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Indego Africa, whose name is a syllabic abbreviation for the words “independence,” “development,” and “governance,” is not a traditional charity. It's social enterprise, and it's awesome.
After the 1994 genocide, Rwanda found itself in a state of transition. The government began encouraging people, particularly women, to form cooperatives as a strategy to fight poverty. These cooperatives pool resources and produce clothing, handicrafts and other sellable goods. However, the co-ops face a lot of challenges, including lack of market access, education and resources. That's where Indego Africa comes in. Their strategy is two-fold.
First, they provide education, because knowledge is power. Indego Africa partners with other NGOs, college students, and training programs to offer education in business, finance, and marketing, as well as literacy lessons in English and Kinyarwanda. Second, they connect the artisan partner cooperatives with a global market. Indego not only sells the products made in Rwanda through their website, they also foster relationships between the women and high-end retailers in the U.S. Originally, the Rwanda cooperatives only sold traditional handicrafts such as hand-woven baskets. Then the woman realized, “Hey, if the world wants to buy reusable market totes, funky accessories, and pretty yoga bags, why don't we make those?” So now they do!
Indego Africa's products are currently sold on their website, as well as by a number of high-end retailers, including fashion designer Nicole Miller, Anthropologie, and Bikram Yoga. Indego Africa returns 100% of the profits to the women in the form of fair wages AND investments in additional education and resources. They are committed to complete transparency in terms of their financial dealings and ethics, and they have been accredited by the Fair Trade Federation.
Here's the best part: It's totally working.
Prior to working with Indego Africa, the majority of the artisan partners carried water for approximately $0.25 a day. Between March 2009 and March 2010, the artisans saw a 517% increase in the number of their families eating three meals a day, an 800% increase in the number of women reporting that the children in their care (many women are raising orphans of the genocide) attend school on a regular basis, and a 300% increase in the number of households with running water.
The knitters who recently worked on the Anthropologie scarves earned, on average, half the money they need for the year in only two months. Some of the more experienced knitters earned a year's worth of wages.
The thing is, those statistics, while impressive, don't even begin to convey how inspiring these women are when you meet them in person. One of the cooperatives formed out of a support group for survivors of sexual violence who either contracted HIV or bore children (or both) as a result of genocide rape. Another cooperative employs widows of the genocide who work alongside women whose husbands are incarcerated for genocide crimes. They are the very heart and soul of Rwanda's commitment to reconciliation and a better future. Best of all, they're doing real work with dignity. They are pro-active business parters, not passive recipients of charity, and it's amazing.
I believe so strongly in this cause that I completely volunteered my time and efforts for three weeks in October: two in Rwanda, and one in New York documenting two of the Rwanda women artisans on an exchange visit with Nicole Miller. (Full disclosure: I received a third-party grant that covered my travel expenses and accommodation.)
Indego Africa already lists all the ways that you can show your support for the women in Rwanda with your wedding here: Indego Africa Weddings. Their ideas include incorporating Indego Africa's products like baskets and table runners into your decor and centerpieces, giving wine coasters and bottle covers as favors or presents or requesting a charitable donation in lieu of gifts.
So, here's the deal: Offbeat Brides always save 10% from me, but I would love if you'd please consider supporting Indego Africa, even if it's just by buying a cosmetic bag to give as a gift to one of your attendants. As such, I am offering a matching donation up to $350, which is the price of a small coffee table book wedding album. That's right: if you donate or buy $350 worth of Indego Africa products and provide proof of purchase, you get a free album PLUS 10% off. (Plus, your attendants get gorgeous market totes or yoga bags as gifts!) Even if you can only give $10, I'll reduce your wedding package by that amount, up to $350. This offer expires on December 1st, 2011 so you can save on your wedding photography AND get some holiday shopping done. Everyone wins!
If Indego Africa sounds great, but you have another cause near and dear to your heart that you're supporting throughout your wedding planning, I want to hear all about it AND I want to work with people like you! You will save 15% on wedding photography if you book me with a contract and a deposit by December 1st, 2011.
Last but not least, being in Africa meant I only got to shoot one October wedding this year, and October weddings are usually among my favorites! October 2012 brides, I still have a handful of dates open. You, too, can save 15% if you book by December 1st.
When I use my time and talents shooting to showcase a cause I believe in, by the time I get to your wedding, I come to you fresh, alert, and engaged, with my soul fulfilled. Here's what I want to know in the comments: How are you supporting causes you believe in at your wedding?